Seasonal Salon

We Dance on the Great Circle of the Years--Remembering Meridel LeSueur

In his article, “The Conscience of the Century,” Karl Young said of Meridel LeSueur, “She was born before the first bomb was dropped out of an airplane -- as a matter of fact, she was born before the first airplane lifted off the ground -- but in many ways the world hasn't caught up with her.”

lesueul meridelPoet, activist, and social critic Meridel LeSueur was born in Iowa in 1900. Her parents were leaders in the farmer’s reform movement. Following their divorce, her mother took a job at the People’s College in Kansas where Meridel at 14 met and learned from Helen Keller and Eugene Debs, the labor organizer. Her mother remarried and they moved to St. Paul MN to work in the Non-Partisan League. Meridel remembered scrubbing tar and feathers off of people who protested World War I. Later, in her twenties, she lived with Emma Goldman in an anarchist commune in New York.

Following studies in dance and drama, she moved to Hollywood where she worked as an extra and did stunts in silent movies, once jumping off of a burning ship. She was told by a studio to fix her “hooked” nose. So she left movies to work in a wide variety of restaurant and factory jobs, always documenting the lives and struggles of workers. Everywhere, she wrote and spoke for social justice, observing, “I am not a writer, just a recorder. The greatest poetry is in the people.”

Much of her writing career involved writing about the effects of the Great Depression. Her essay “I Was Marching,” about the Minneapolis truck drivers’ strike in 1934, is considered a classic of American literature. Her novel “The Girl” addressed the concerns of women and girls living in a warehouse in St. Paul. Blacklisted in the 50s, she continued to write about unfair conditions for workers and women. In the 70s, a new appreciation of her work was inspired by the writings of Second-Wave feminist scholars.

Throughout her life she was known for mentoring and encouraging artists and writers. Molly Culligan, who created a one-woman show based on Meridel’s writings, says, “I am a great example of her support. When I first asked her permission to do a show of her work she opened her arms and said, ‘I respect your work.’ ”

Meridel passed away at the age of 96 in Hudson, WI, still writing, with her books and manuscripts on the bed and nightstand. Molly Culligan says of her, “She thought she was living in the greatest time that ever was and she had an enormous faith in the intelligence of the people.” Meridel wrote this poem for her 90th birthday:

We take each other’s hands. We dance on the great circle
of the years.
I will never die.
There is no death where there is the touch.
I can’t die with you continuing.
I will go on living among you--in the strength of continuation
of being born of each other.

Sid Reger is an independent scholar, educator, and artist whose passions include mythology, prehistoric art, and bringing goddess lore into women’s lives. She is an ordained priestess of RCG-I and the president of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology. She lives in western PA, where she and her temple dog are instructed daily by two infinitely wise cats.

Category: Spring Equinox 2019